While growing up Varun Gupta, 33, chief financial officer, India Steel Works Ltd, a stainless steel manufacturing company, attended a school which emphasized on sports as part of the curriculum. However, post-school, sports took a back seat. College life in Australia was about fried food, beer and sitting on a couch playing video games. “I was becoming bigger and unhealthier everyday without realizing it," says Gupta. “I guess what people say is true, things get worse just before they start getting better."

What triggered his need to get fit was a study trip to China with his classmates at the university in Australia in 2006. “While walking up The Great Wall, I felt breathless and was holding onto my sides. Everyone was at least a kilometre ahead of me. That’s the moment I realized I needed to do something about myself. I was fat and unhealthy," says Gupta, who now is based in Mumbai.

On the trail

After Gupta returned to Australia, he started scouting around for programmes to lose weight. He went on a high-protein diet but faced a problem as he was a vegetarian. “I still remember throwing up for a week trying to eat an egg. But I stuck with it. And slowly that became a part of me," he says. But just a diet was not enough. He needed activity too. People would tell him to go to the gym and run on treadmill but he couldn’t get himself to make it to the gym alone. Gupta started playing basketball and football, and saw results. “Frankly, I was lucky I was in Australia, which actually made the fitness regime extremely convenient," he says. At that, time everything else took a back seat. “I was obsessed with getting fit. I had started weighing myself every day and setting daily targets for weight loss. At my heaviest, I was 118 kg and after a year of this, I was at 67 kilos," he recalls.

The habit has stayed on. Even today, Gupta plays football at least thrice a week. On other days, he heads to the gym. “I have a personal trainer who guides me and makes me do a balanced split of upper and lower body workouts without lifting extremely heavy weights. On some days, I do both—gym first and then go play football," he says.

Mind matters

In the last decade, fitness has remained a hugely important aspect in Gupta’s life. Over time, he has learnt what works for him and what doesn’t. Everyone thinks gym and football are intense activities, and that he tires himself out or pushes himself too hard. But Gupta doesn’t see it like that; he sees his fitness regime as a way to de-stress from all the work-related pressures. “It’s an outlet for me and probably the only time I dedicate truly to myself. And so I make time for it, come what may," he says.

According to Gupta, the biggest challenge he faces is that he belongs to a vegetarian dominant home where everyone loves junk and cheesy food. He had to learn to make his own breakfast, and even teach someone to make his lunch and dinner in a healthy way.

Lifestyle changes

Gupta accepts that he is always late for all social gatherings, simply because he has to finish his activities first. “It does affect my social life but it’s a small price to pay for staying fit and healthy," he says.

A fit leader

“Exercise, diet and sports all teach you how to stay disciplined and motivated. Both these values are necessary for any good leader. Moreover you learn to be a part of a team, again a quality any leader must possess," says Gupta.

Finding Fitness is a series that looks at how a health scare prompted senior executives to work on their lifestyle habits.